April 18, 2011 Edition 10 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
Why is there no peace process?
No one is really interested  - Yossi Alpher
The only Israeli-Palestinian arena worth paying attention to in the coming year is the United Nations.

More process than peace  - Ghassan Khatib
Israel has insisted on prioritizing its settlement expansion policy.

A hollow, cynical concept  - Amira Hass
The "process" has become an end in itself for Israel's shrewd, calculating negotiators.

"Just theater"  - an interview with Issa Samandar
When the Olso accords were drafted, we made a very big mistake.

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No one is really interested
 Yossi Alpher
The question why there is no peace progress offers a good opportunity to review the obstacles to peace that have emerged in the course of the past two and a half years. During that time, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama took office, and the Olmert-Abbas peace talks ended in failure.

There is no peace process because neither the Israeli nor the PLO leadership wants one. And there is no peace process because the Obama administration is not prepared to use real muscle to make one happen. Each of these actors has its own rationale for avoiding a serious process.

The Netanyahu government in Jerusalem is not prepared to make the territorial concessions necessary to enable a process to succeed. It also has security demands, such as a long-term Israeli armed presence in the Jordan Valley, that are incompatible with peace. Whether or not these security demands are sincere or are simply a tactic for evading territorial concessions, there are clear and persuasive alternatives to a long-term Israel Defense Forces deployment in the Jordan Valley that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu refuses to consider. In addition, some elements in his government object to the emergence of a Palestinian state on religious-ideological grounds and/or because they fear such a state would be non-viable and would fall into extremist hands. They represent a minority of Israeli public opinion but a majority of Netanyahu's coalition.

In recent years, Israelis have elected hawkish leaders not because Israelis reject peace but in reaction to extreme and seemingly irrational acts of violence by our neighbors: suicide bombings; rocket attacks from territory unilaterally evacuated. Yet the government we ended up with under Netanyahu in March 2009 is clearly incompatible with a genuine two-state solution.

Still, Netanyahu has dissembled very successfully: he embraced a two-state solution, however ambiguously; and he invited the PLO to negotiate within the same no-preconditions format as his predecessors. Or did he? Last September, he apparently informed Abbas that negotiations had to begin with his demand that the IDF remain in the Jordan Valley for 40 years. And his negotiators have reportedly refused to accept a document outlining Palestinian positions. Meanwhile, Netanyahu builds and expands settlements, and contemplates a unilateral gesture or two that will in any event be deemed "too little, too late".

PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and many of those around him have effectively refused to negotiate for the past two years. Faced with the opportunity ostensibly to "call Netanyahu's bluff", Abbas has refused to enter negotiations in accordance with conditions and positions that represent a considerable step backward from where negotiations ended with Olmert. Yet it is he who has always insisted that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", thereby enabling Netanyahu to renew talks from whatever point he chooses.

Further, the Palestinian drive for international recognition of statehood, energized by solid state-building accomplishments on the ground in the West Bank, appears to derive its principal rationale from an understanding that negotiations have become pointless. Everything has been discussed over and over, and very little agreed. With Olmert, Abbas reached a point where the gaps involved "only" four percent of the territory and 100,000 settlers, along with the fate of the Jerusalem holy basin and the right of return. These remain huge differences, and Abbas knows there is not the slightest chance of narrowing them with Netanyahu.

Nor can he negotiate or sign an agreement on behalf of the Gaza Strip, or hold elections there to strengthen his mandate to negotiate. He has little chance of restoring PLO control over Gaza in the near future. So Abbas exploits every opportunity to avoid being dragged into another hopeless round of negotiations, particularly when it would spoil his chances of further isolating Israel through a statehood initiative at the United Nations in September--an initiative that will also look hollow for lack of PLO rule over Gaza.

Finally, US President Barack Obama has made nothing but mistakes in the Israel-Arab context since taking office. A policy of "engagement" and gentle persuasion doesn't work in Damascus, Jerusalem or Ramallah. Peace envoy George Mitchell's fabled patience is not the right tactic. You don't give presidential "vision" speeches in Cairo and Ankara without giving one in Jerusalem. The settlement freeze demand had no chance of succeeding unless accompanied by serious and even brutal pressure on Israel, the kind once practiced by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (reassessment) and even President Ronald Reagan (holding up vital arms supplies). Now, with American presidential elections barely a year and a half away and so many more urgent crises to deal with in the Middle East, Obama has apparently shoved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the back burner.

Hence, the only Israeli-Palestinian arena worth paying attention to in the coming year is the United Nations. If Israel and the US were free of political constraints and capable of creative thinking, they could turn this Palestinian initiative into a win-win situation for Israelis and Palestinians. But they are not. And in any case, given the pace of sudden and cataclysmic events in the region, something may well happen in the next six months to once again change the parameters of Israeli-Palestinian peace.-Published 18/4/2011 ©

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

More process than peace
 Ghassan Khatib
After eight months of no negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, it is useful to clarify that recent experience has demonstrated that the existence of a peace process does not necessarily mean moving towards peace. The peace process that was launched in Madrid in 1991 included declared objectives of reaching a peace settlement between Israel on the one hand and Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians on the other hand. But as far as the Palestinians are concerned, and in spite of the ongoing process, the two sides stopped moving towards achieving this objective after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish terrorist in 1995.

Since then, the process went on but in parallel with the consolidation of the Israeli occupation through illegal settlement activities and vicious rounds of violence in which the two sides exchanged accusations of responsibility.

That's why we should ask two questions: how can the peace process be resumed and how can this process be meaningful in the sense of moving the two sides, no matter how gradually or slowly, towards achieving its objectives?

There are two sets of causes for the failure of the peace process and the current stagnation. The first is structural. The American-supported Israeli insistence on bilateral negotiations with little adherence to international law and legality and with no role for a third party such as the United Nations has enabled Israel to apply the balance of power that exists on the ground to the negotiations. This has led to the current unbalanced situation.

This also led to very clear trends of radicalization in Israeli and Palestinian public opinion, resulting in the election of Hamas by the Palestinian people in 2006 and the election of the right-wing coalition led by Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman in Israel in 2009.

The second set of reasons has to do with the parties to the conflict as well as the United States, which has been monopolizing mediation between them.

Israel, as a result of the rightward shift in public opinion, has insisted on continuing its settlement expansion policy, giving this policy priority over resuming the peace process. This, in spite of the international consensus that settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace and in spite of a clear US call on Israel to stop consolidating its occupation through settlement expansion.

The Palestinian side, which succeeded for the first time in fulfilling its obligations to international legality and the roadmap, both in security and reforms, has failed in reuniting the factions Hamas and Fateh, thereby weakening its claims of readiness for a settlement.

Likewise, the United States' approach to the conflict bears a lion's share of the responsibility for the failure to resume a meaningful peace process. Its double standard policies, unjustified bias towards Israel and tolerance of Israeli violations of international law and the roadmap have encouraged Israel to go on disregarding the demands of the peace process.

In dealing with this conflict, the international community must apply unified standards that are rooted in international legality and the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, including the roadmap, which obliges Israel to stop settlement expansion and aims at ending the occupation that began in 1967. In addition, it has to introduce certain elements of accountability into its relations with Israel, otherwise there will be very little hope of resuming the peace process. If it restarts under these conditions, it will be more "process" than "peace". -Published 18/4/2011 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

A hollow, cynical concept
 Amira Hass
It is not the "process-ization" or the business-world terminology that killed the notion of peace. But the tedious, two-decade-long ritual of meetings-for-meetings-sake and the overdose of "mechanisms" have certainly exposed the enormous gulf between what peace means for Israeli Jews and what it means for the Palestinians. It is a gulf that separates surrender from dignity.

The gulf can just as well be named a "missed opportunity" for the Jewish community in our region. The gist of the matter is that Israel rejected the generous offer the PLO made in 1993: peace according to long-accepted international resolutions and understandings. Thus, for the long term, Israel endangers the future of this Jewish community. Instead of getting rid of its character of crusader shtetl, Israel strengthened it. But in the short term, this policy has had devastating implications for the Palestinian community.

The "process" has become an end in itself for Israel's shrewd, calculating negotiators, from Shimon Peres to Binyamin Netanyahu. They have excelled at using the interim period to predetermine the shape of a future, presumably final settlement. This same process has allowed a Palestinian ruling clique to pathetically cling to the meager privileges that the title entails and that the Israeli Civil Administration--the epitome of colonial bureaucracy--allows. This, at a price of de-facto collaboration with Israeli schemes and growing alienation from a disenchanted, captive constituency.

For Israel, the process has yielded a suitably stable status quo (with occasional and manageable protests and disruptions). Therefore, Israel does not really need a renewed process.

What does this "peace gulf" comprise? First, Gaza and its large Palestinian population are cut off from the prospective Palestinian state. Contrary to Israelis' popular, ignorant narrative, this was not the result of Hamas taking over or the Qassam rockets or suicide attacks. This has been a steady process since 1991 (which I have described and documented countless times), fully initiated by Israel. The intra-Palestinian geopolitical schism is a result of Hamas and Fateh's failure to comprehend Israeli measures, including the 2005 disengagement, or their unwillingness to let go of sectarian, self-centered considerations.

Second, Palestinian East Jerusalem has been experiencing a steady process of pauperization and a deliberate, multifaceted policy of expulsion and land grab, in tandem with its severance from the prospective Palestinian state.

Third, with the ingenious invention of areas A, B and C, the reality of an isolated Gaza Strip was replicated in the West Bank in the form of several smaller Bantustans. What was presented as "temporary" has become permanent, rendering area C and its expanding colonies a part of Israel.

Fourth, a false notion of symmetry in status between the Palestinian Authority and the state of Israel has been created. This has allowed Israel to disengage from its responsibilities as the occupying power.

Fifth, the semblance of "peace" and the false symmetry allowed the West to forego any serious claim to exercise political leverage against Israeli disregard of international law, resolutions and understandings. The opposite is true: the West has put more pressure on the occupied, to the point of overall boycott.

And finally, the West balances its support for the stronger party by subsidizing the cost of occupation, closure and military assaults, and by sustaining the PA and its false statehood.

"Peace" for Palestinians originally implied undoing injustice. Foreign Israeli rule over the Palestinians contains too much evil-doing to be recounted or even summarized here. It was so before Oslo, but the trickery and hypocrisy that have been added under the guise of a "peace process", plus draconian restrictions on the freedom of movement, have rendered the infliction of evil much heavier.

The two-state solution in its original form (23 percent-77 percent) that the PLO accepted when embarking on the Oslo track, contained a nuanced historiography that says: Israel is not only the product of a colonialist movement and period, but also the result of the German-European industry of murder. This approach also contained the potential for both Israel and Palestine to eventually grow out of the nation-state model and develop into a bi-national form, to be determined by the two peoples. This potential is probably what made Israel fight so ferociously against the 23-77 compromise.

But then came the "process", with Israel insisting on a black-and-white historiography: yes, Israel is a colonialist entity; yes, Israel does aim at dispossessing as many Palestinians from their land and retaining as much "empty" land as possible within its borders.

Under the guise of a peace process, the main Israeli compromise has been with an inbuilt desire to expel all Palestinians from their homeland. The world today would not permit such an outright repetition of 1948. Hence the result: disconnected, over-populated Palestinian enclaves.

No wonder, then, that "peace", and not only the "process" part, has become one of those hollow, cynical concepts like dialogue, co-existence, reconciliation, and people-to-people. No wonder a renewal of that futile process does not appeal to the great majority of Palestinians.-Published 18/4/2011 ©

Amira Hass has been Haaretz correspondent in the occupied territories since 1993.

"Just theater"
an interview with Issa Samandar
bitterlemons: After more than a decade, what is your view of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Samandar: I have to bring it back to its origins. When the Olso accords were drafted, we made a very big mistake. Settlements are not just the construction of houses--this is a really big enterprise. Our leadership thought that the territory would gradually be a state, but on the ground, we were not in control of our land. This was to the benefit of Israel.

At that time, it was believed that Israel would be pushed to stop expanding settlements, and we merely said [in the agreement] "no unilateral steps". But in practice, Israel controlled everything. At that time, we could have succeeded in a campaign to dismantle the illegal settlements, but now it is much more complicated. We missed a very big opportunity.

On the other hand, we often spoke about settlements, but no one was listening because it wasn't backed by strategy and popular activities. I hope now in these times everyone understands that only popular resistance can bring us these gains. But it needs organization and an end to division. Now we have a lot of international support.

bitterlemons: So you think that the peace process right now is stopped largely because Palestinians are recognizing the mistakes that they made in the past and making revisions?

Samandar: No, it is stopped because settlements are not only symbolic. They are facts on the ground. And as settlers have gained, they have grown greedy and demanded more power.

In Ramallah region, in the Salfit region, the [Israeli military] cannot even (or maybe they don't want to) implement their own occupation law on the settlers. The settlers and Civil Administration are now one party. The official in charge of house demolitions and construction [in the West Bank] is a settler. Before, they were somewhat separate, but now even formally the settlers are part of the establishment.

So, of course, the peace process is stalled. Palestinian farmers are no longer accepting "nice words". They want to see tangible things on the ground--when the bulldozers are stopped, when the settlers are not attacking, then they will know there is a change.

The United States is part of this game. They are negotiating with the Israelis, so that instead of building 3,000 settlement units, Israel builds 2,500. That leaves the Palestinians in the role of surrendering and saying "yes." Palestinians see this reality and the anger is growing.

bitterlemons: You work with people on the ground. Tell us about their experiences.

Samandar: They are frustrated. More and more farmers are being hit. The impact of the wall on them is entirely clear. One farmer lost his land; he says that even his dignity is being targeted.

Yes, we are living in good economic conditions, but I believe that the situation is close to that before the first intifada and the second intifada, when our dignity was being hit by Israel. The negotiations are like a play for us, just theater.

We see that nobody can change this but us. We have to do this ourselves. Look at the situation in Burin, where it used to be very quiet.

Nowadays, the villagers can't accept what the settlers are doing to them. They [the settlers] are always entering the village, sometimes attacking people, burning houses or cutting down trees--as if there is no Israeli military in the area.

The people are organizing to defend themselves. But the problem is that they are now in spots--one spot in Bethlehem, one spot in Maasara, one spot in Bilin. Slowly, everybody is getting to know each other. And I think this will lead to popular struggle.-Published 18/4/2011 ©

Issa Samandar is coordinator of the Land Defense Committees in the West Bank.